Captaincy brings out the best in Pat Lambie, writes MIKE GREENAWAY.
Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold is not alone in KwaZulu-Natal in believing the appointment of Pat Lambie as the 2016 captain of the Sharks is a masterstroke.
The Durban-based team has shed a host of Springboks, among them Bismarck du Plessis, who was handed the captaincy in 2015 but proved too fiery to securely hold the leadership reins and, after a lengthy ban for foul play, eventually relinquished them.
It might be pushing it to accuse Du Plessis of being a divisive leader but there’s no doubt that not long into the Super Rugby season last year, Gold was lamenting how most of his leadership group was in the bin with lengthy bans – Du Plessis, Frans Steyn and Jean Deysel. The Sharks lost six matches in a row, finishing a dismal 11th.
Steyn and the Du Plessis brothers have moved on overseas, as have other seniors, albeit less controversial characters in Willem Alberts, Ryan Kankowski and Marco Wentzel.
Enter Lambie as the new captain of a squad with fewer big-name personalities and united in their belief in the 25-year-old’s leadership qualities. Lambie, a true son of the Kings Park soil, having been schooled at Clifton Primary (less than a kilometre from Kings Park), and then Michaelhouse, is primed to enter the best form of his life and has a history of embracing leadership.
He has played 93 games in all competitions for the Sharks and 50 for the Springboks. He is a player of enormous pedigree and his quiet humility has engendered much respect from his peers. Lambie is primed to hit the peak of his powers and could not be more ready for the captaincy role.
The Sharks are a team in transition – the average age has dropped significantly – and the quietly ambitious Lambie no doubt has a personal point to prove on a national level after being one of the scapegoats of the Springboks’ defeat to Japan (he started at flyhalf in that game and was benched for the rest of the World Cup in favour of Handré Pollard).
Lambie chooses not to discuss the World Cup, publicly anyway, as you would expect from a new captain who has only Super Rugby in his sights.
‘That is history and the only thing I’m interested in now is getting game time at flyhalf and helping the Sharks hit winning ways, not to mention getting through a Super Rugby campaign uninjured,’ he adds wryly.
Lambie missed the majority of the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to bicep and neck injuries, respectively – a further reason he is due to hit serious form should he elude the injury bogey.
As head boy at high school, and captain of every cricket and rugby team he played in, Lambie says he relishes leadership.
‘I like to think captaincy brings out the best in me. It’s certainly not something I shrink from,’ he says. ‘I think captaincy makes you more accountable for what you do on and off the field, and I like that.
‘I’m not the demonstrative type. I try to lead by example, but I think the key to captaincy is not letting the role force you to get too ahead of yourself. You have to stay consistent through good and bad times and hopefully that rubs off positively on the players. You have to keep on treating players the same way, whether or not you are captain and on a winning streak or losing.’
Lambie is aware that Sharks fans are growing increasingly impatient after a horrible 2015, which included failure to make the Currie Cup semi-finals.
‘To turn it around, we have to win, first and foremost,’ he says. ‘We have to win that first game [away to the Kings], and then take it from there. You can’t get ahead of yourself in Super Rugby. We are making changes to how we play, and hopefully that will get us on the right side of the scoreboard as well as the fans. We want to play positive rugby and score exciting tries.
‘It’s hugely important to get people back into the stadium, we want to play bums-on-seat rugby and to do that we have to play a brand that shows the jersey is important to us and that we are proud ambassadors of the history of the Sharks.’
Lambie says the loss of the senior players has to be acknowledged, but it can be turned into a positive for the team.
‘Some true Sharks legends have moved on, but at the same time it’s exciting to see the hunger of the new crop of players who are trying to make it,’ he says. ‘We will be an enthusiastic team. We will play for each other and are united in wanting to impress our fans. I really hope that comes through.’
– This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of SA Rugby magazine